What is interesting about the plot of Love, Sex and 30 Candles is how it carefully fastens attention to each friend, one after the other. The film’s minimal ensemble cast helps to maintain a sense of unity. But in spite of this, other questions arise…
By Seyi Lasisi
For some odd reason, I found myself staring hard and rewatching the Stephina Zwane-directed Love, Sex and 30 Candles before starting this review. It is odd because, over time, I have trained myself to trust my first impression of a film or series. But, after my first watch of the South African film, forming a logical opinion was a hurdle. It did not help that the plot details, coupled with the characters’ names and their individual relevance to the plot have fizzled out of memory. Written by the joint effort of Zoe Laband and Stephina Zwane, Love, Sex and 30 Candles, trails the lives of four friends, Dikeledi (Amogelang Chidi), Sade (Gabisile Tshabalala), Linda (Candice Modiselle), and Nolwazi (Bahumi Madisakwane). The film is an adaptation of The 30th Candle, a novel by South African writer, Angela Makholwa.
Reluctantly pulling the story forward is a friendship over a decade old. Dikeledi, the more mature and emotionally steady of the friends, is a teacher and single parent. Thanks to her psychology-related teaching job, Dikeledi can act as the emotional anchor for her friends. Sade, a lead auditor, is in a restrictive relationship with Winston (Loyiso MacDonald). The first time we meet Nolwazi, a fashion designer, there is a noticeable constraint etched on her countenance, and as the plot will reveal, the origin of this strained expression is important to the story. Linda is a documentary filmmaker, and as someone whose job demands a desire to document memories, she lives up to it. Ten years before the film starts, Linda forces her friends into projecting their future. Each has an idea of what their future should look like ten years later. They have individual desires: marriage, a well-paying job, and love. Despite their individual future expectations, the girls are unified in the will to maintain their friendship forever. However, threatening their decade-long relationship is a clandestine affair between Nolwazi and Tebogo (Lunga Shabala), Dikeledi’s unstable boyfriend.
Love, Sex and 30 Candles is a simple yet universal story. The film is anchored on questions such as, Does friendship last forever? Do plans and future projections we casually make happen? In its close to two hours of showtime, the film guides viewers, using the stories of these ladies, to possible answers.
Life is hardly linear. More often than not, life runs in the opposite direction of our well-planned and carefully curated blueprint. Sometimes, our perfectly crafted plans are squashed by different life challenges. And what the film subliminally relays is that a delay in one’s dream isn’t an indication of one’s failure. It is simply life taking its course.
Sade’s engagement with the pious Winston, provides the most intellectual arc of the story. Masculine ideologies have always found support in deep-rooted and archaic religious conventions, and Sade and Winston’s relationship illustrates this. Winston demands that Sade be submissive. He wants her to quit her job and restricts her movements, actions which he always backs with religious creed, compelling Sade through religious dogmas. But in a swift change of events, we infer that Winston’s devotion to Christianity is a facade, and he is a villain hiding behind a religious cloak.
Love, Sex and 30 Candles is not the first of its kind in its portrayal of romance and female friendships. In the Nigerian film industry, the critically acclaimed directorial debut of Jade Osiberu, Isoken (2017), aside from signifying Osiberu’s filmmaking strength, is a rom-com steeped with feminist ethos. There is also the recent series, The Plan, which is set in a somewhat conservative setting, and presents stories of women from Northern Nigeria. When one moves away from The Plan, one gets greeted by the four ladies in the ShowMax series, Flawsome. Outside Nigeria, there is Binti, a Tanzanian drama that unveils in fragments, the struggles of four women as they persevere through the challenges of being daughters, girlfriends, wives, and mothers.
The female lead characters in these films and series, although different, are similar in their vocal and subtle jab at the masculine convention. They do not accept the often patriarchal societal demands, and by so doing, they thread a path less travelled by African women. By questioning despotic bosses, owning their sexuality, being vocally impassive to the marriage institution, and building thriving careers for themselves, these African women subtly inspire others. They consciously individualise their wants, and pursue them, unburdened by societal expectations.
What is interesting about the plot of Love, Sex and 30 Candles is how it carefully fastens attention to each friend, one after the other. The film’s minimal ensemble cast helps to maintain a sense of unity. But in spite of this, other questions arise: How well do we know these characters? Does the script allow viewers to emotionally connect with them? The answer is an affirmative no. Linda’s lack of commitment is unexplored. We are left to speculate whether her non-commitment is rooted in her unresolved conflict with her father. While the friends have a seemingly perfect relationship, we do not get to know how well-engraved their relationship is. This lack of investment in the friends’ relationship is so obvious that when a threat seeks to crumble their formidable friendship we don’t feel the effect. Nothing seems to be at stake. The storyline may occasionally make you apathetic to ongoing events on screen, but after a second watch, I can conclusively say that Love, Sex & 30 Candles will ultimately find its audience due to its feminist undertone.
(Love, Sex and 30 Candles is currently streaming on Netflix)
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex.